Checked Out: THE PLANTAGENETS {The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England} by Dan Jones

Plantagenets
Publisher: Viking Adult
Released: April 18, 2013
Source: Borrowed from the library


The first Plantagenet king inherited a blood-soaked kingdom from the Normans and transformed it into an empire stretched at its peak from Scotland to Jerusalem. In this epic history, Dan Jones vividly resurrects this fierce and seductive royal dynasty and its mythic world.

We meet the captivating Eleanor of Aquitaine, twice queen and the most famous woman in Christendom; her son, Richard the Lionheart, who fought Saladin in the Third Crusade; and King John, a tyrant who was forced to sign Magna Carta, which formed the basis of our own Bill of Rights.

This is the era of chivalry, of Robin Hood and the Knights Templar, the Black Death, the founding of Parliament, the Black Prince, and the Hundred Year’s War. It will appeal as much to readers of Tudor history as to fans of Game of Thrones.


I grabbed this book from the library because I wanted a crash course in Plantagenet history. The Plantagenets ruled England for over 300 years, beginning with Henry II in 1154, and this book covers most of that time. Henry II’s mother was Empress Matilda, the granddaughter of William the Conqueror. I thought it was interesting that the family name came from Henry II’s father Geoffrey, who liked to wear the yellow Planta Genista blossoms in his hair, leading to the nickname Geoffrey Plantagenet.

This book was well-researched and went into great detail on the major players of the Plantagenet dynasty. Some parts I skimmed over, while others sections I spent a lot of time on. I enjoyed Empress Matilda’s story of how she battled her cousin Stephen of Blois for control of England. While she was never officially crowned queen, she succeeded in getting her son on the throne as the first Plantagenet king. Eleanor of Aquitaine was another fascinating woman who made a huge impact on Europe during her long life. And I can’t forget the Edward II/Isabella of France/Piers Gaveston/Hugh Despenser drama! It was drama to rival the Tudors.

This book paints a vivid portrait of English royals between the Norman invasion and the Tudor takeover. (Though, it did not go as far as Richard III; he needs his own book!) Recommended for anyone interested in an easy to read history of this time period.

Book Review: CLOCHE AND DAGGER by Jenn McKinlay

ClocheDagger
Series: London Hat Shop Mystery, #1
Publisher: Berkley
Released: August 6, 2013
Source: Review copy from the Publisher

Not only is Scarlett Parker’s love life in the loo—as her British cousin Vivian Tremont would say—it’s also gone viral with an embarrassing video. So when Viv suggests Scarlett leave Florida to lay low in London, she hops on the next plane across the pond. Viv is the proprietor of Mims’s Whims, a ladies’ hat shop on Portobello Road bequeathed to both cousins by their beloved grandmother, and she wants Scarlett to finally join her in the millinery business.

But a few surprises await Scarlett in London. First, she is met at the airport not by Viv, but by her handsome business manager, Harrison Wentworth. Second, Viv—who has some whims of her own—seems to be missing. No one is too concerned about the unpredictable Viv until one of her posh clients is found dead wearing the cloche hat Viv made for her—and nothing else. Is Scarlett’s cousin in trouble? Or is she in hiding?

———

CLOCHE AND DAGGER kicks off the London Hat Shop Mystery series, and as soon as I saw it was set in London, I had to read it! I thought it was very much a “first” of a series. The stage is set, and readers get to know most of the main characters well, though the mystery could have been stronger.

Scarlett was a fun, likable character. She got herself in a big mess in Florida and became an internet star, and not in a good way. She heads across the pond to join her cousin Viv in running their grandmother’s hat shop, Mims’s Whims. But when she gets to London, Viv is missing. Is it because she’s a little flaky, or is there something sinister behind her disappearance? We don’t know. Instead of Viv, Scarlett has hunky Harrison (Viv’s finance guy) looking out for her at the shop. In the past there’s been bad blood between Scarlett and Harrison, but you can tell there’s some romantic chemistry there too.

It took a good while before the murder mystery got going. The body wasn’t found until a third of the way through, which for me is just too long to wait, though it did give readers time to connect with Scarlett and the secondary characters. I liked how the mystery played out, I just wish there had been more viable suspects and that they had been fleshed out a bit more.

I loved the Notting Hill neighborhood setting, the cousins’ elegant hat shop, and the mysterious wardrobe Viv uses to hide hats. There’s even a touch of the supernatural going on in the shop, which I hope will be expanded on in the next book. CLOCHE AND DAGGER was a light, fun read, and the snappish banter between Scarlett and Harrison had me giggling. If she plans on staying in London, Scarlett must give up her MoonPie obsession and learn to make a proper cup of tea!

Rating: 3½ Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: SOMETHING IN THE BLOOD by Jean G. Goodhind

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Series: Honey Driver Mystery, #1
Publisher: Accent Press
Released: June 26, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher

Honey Driver runs a hotel in Bath. She also collects antique underwear.

As boss, she’s in charge one day and washing dishes the next, resisting her mother’s match-making attempts and managing multiple responsibilities – mundane, safe, and unexciting. Then one day things change. Honey lands the job of liaising with the police on behalf of Bath Hotels Association. No worries, she tells herself. Nothing will happen; then an American tourist goes missing and Honey is called in to help. Despite the on/off hostility of her police opposite number, D C I Steve Doherty, she sticks to the task. In the process Honey finds out that there’s more to work than washing dishes, and more to murder than malice aforethought.

———

Unfortunately, I had to mark this one as “did not finish.” I read half the book, and then very quickly skimmed the last few chapters to find out how the mystery played out. Even when all the right elements are there – a cozy mystery, English setting, quirky heroine – sometimes a book just doesn’t work for me.

I was intrigued by the premise of an American tourist gone missing on his holiday in Bath, England, however the plot was difficult to follow and just wasn’t interesting enough to hold my attention. Other than her obsession with Victorian undergarments, the main character, Honey Driver, fell flat. She had a few clever moments, but in the end, she’s not a character that I’ll remember.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Bath, and the English slang peppered throughout the story. Both gave me a sense of actually being there, which was fun. Though SOMETHING IN THE BLOOD wasn’t for me, I’d encourage readers to check out other reviews.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: MEET ME AT THE CUPCAKE CAFE by Jenny Colgan

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Series: Meet Me at The Cupcake Café, #1
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Released: July 2, 2013
Source: Review copy from NetGalley

Baking is in Issy Randall’s blood. Growing up above her grandfather’s bakery taught Issy that a delicious pastry could make any day better. So when she’s laid off from her desk job—by the man she thought was her boyfriend, no less—Issy knows now is the time to start her own little café.

Armed with her grandfather’s tried and true recipes, as well as her own new dishes, Issy’s new dream job should be a piece-of-cake, right? But managing a café, delivering products on time and trying to have a new love life aren’t exactly going as Issy planned. And when her ex comes back into the picture, perhaps with his own motives, Issy’s search for the perfect pastry and a groundbreaking idea to save her café are much more than she bargained for…

———

MEET ME AT THE CUPCAKE CAFE was a fun book to read. The main character, Issy, was delightful and quirky, and I was rooting for her every step of the way. After getting laid off from her clerical job at a real estate office, she decides to follow her dream of running her own bakery, just like her beloved grandpa did while she was growing up. This is a huge life change for Issy, and the road to success is rocky with many hard lessons to learn along the way.

Issy was an endearing and kindhearted character, and it was amazing how she was able to create friendships among unlikely people. Of course, people weren’t always doing things in her best interest, and I had to shake my head a few times. Luckily, she had a strong group of friends who loved and supported her, and weren’t afraid to tell it like it is.

Mixed into this sweet story is a little romance, a lot of laughs, a few tears, and cupcakes! Several recipes are included, and they all sound delicious. MEET ME AT THE CUPCAKE CAFE was such a cute book, and if you like chick lit, you shouldn’t pass this one up.

Favorite Quote:

“I have a head for business and a body for sin,” said Issy. Then she glanced down at the popcorn in her lap. “Unfortunately, the sin appears to be gluttony.”

Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenny Colgan was a fussy eater as a child and didn’t even begin to learn to cook until she was 21, when her then boyfriend tried to teach her a few basics purely out of exasperation. While she is now able to make a variety of good, wholesome food for her family, she still can’t make scones. A former columnist for The Guardian, Jenny contributes regularly to national BBC radio and is the bestselling author of more than eleven novels, including The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris (coming out in the US in early 2014). She is married with three children and lives in London and France. For more information, please visit http://www.jennycolgan.com/ and follow her on Twitter, @JennyColgan.